Darby Collyear (top) and Liya Girma (bottom) have been friends for years. Now, they’re wreaking havoc as Cards.
By Collin Bolebruch
When they’re on the court together, Liya Girma and Darby Collyear are the loudest in the gym. A clutch kill will get them off their feet and in their teammate’s face. Jeannette Ashong, middle hitter, remembers being almost knocked off her feet after winning a point in one match. The Texans’ unique bond with one another bleeds onto the court, bringing electric energy and elevating the team.
Liya and Darby first crossed paths playing for MADFROG, a club volleyball team in Plano, Texas. Liya had been there for years, but Darby hadn’t joined until they were both 15 years old. An outside hitter and right side respectively, the two were a force to be reckoned with around the net. Their chemistry followed them home, where they immediately hit it off.
Though Liya was from Sachse and Darby was from Rockwall, a 30-minute drive apart, they made it work. When they stepped off the court, they’d have movie nights at friends’ houses, go shopping with each other and find time to go swimming together.
After years with the club, Darby had a difficult decision to make. Staying with MADFROG would hinder her opportunities to play at a higher level, and inevitably, she had to join a new team. Their connection was bigger than the sport, so of course, their friendship didn’t change. It didn’t hurt that the clubs were a block away from each other.
“It’s like, what, five seconds away? Yeah. It’s legit, like, down the street from MADFROG,” Darby said. “We had a few sad moments the day that I did leave, but it didn’t change anything with our bond.”
Both had plenty of college options in-state, but were itching for a change of scenery. Liya was hearing from Plattsburgh Cardinals Head Women’s Volleyball Coach Kelsea Healis almost every day, asking when she could visit, how she felt about college and other general updates.
“I love it so much I can still do it in school. It just keeps me fit, it keeps me busy. If I’m not busy, I don’t do what I’m supposed to be doing,” Liya said. “It’s my motivation for keeping myself going.”
When watching Liya’s tape, Healis was captivated by MADFROG’s right side. After getting her information from Liya, Healis was just as consistent with Darby. Liya and Darby were each other’s wingwoman, wanting to see the other get recruited with the same opportunities. Healis liked their ability to communicate on the court.
Both of them loved their visit to Plattsburgh. Now-teammate Payton Zophy remembered their bubbly and talkative personalities.
Darby, an environmental science major, knew the surrounding Adirondacks would be a great opportunity to explore a different climate and learn new things. Liya knew a big school wasn’t for her, and the team felt inclusive when she met them. As a data analytics and accounting major, Liya also liked that Plattsburgh offers a master’s program.
“[College] always was a thought for me. Growing up and playing club, for me, I didn’t want to waste all the time, energy and money that was put into me playing club for all those years, because it’s not a cheap hobby,” Darby said. “I didn’t want to lose the love that I had built for the sport.”
Liya came to her college decision first, and that might have been the deciding factor for Darby. They both would be Plattsburgh Cardinals.
This year’s first-year class is the most diverse in terms of home state in years — including Liya and Darby from Texas, KC Burke from California, Katarina Wagner from Washington and Katie Rachwal from Michigan.
To get better accustomed to college and life outside of Texas, Darby and Liya arrived on campus two weeks early. They begged Healis to live together. Healis typically wants her players to branch out, becoming closer with different players on the team. It’s also sometimes difficult to live with a friend, when you’re now under each other’s microscopes.
They pled their case, and they won — and so far, it’s been smooth sailing. The two weeks, they said, felt almost like a month. They’re great roommates, teaching each other how to work through their problems and promising nothing would tear them apart. Although, Liya doesn’t like it when Darby leaves bananas in the fridge so long they turn black.
The extra time they spent together helped them make themselves feel more comfortable in a new environment before school and the season started. Healis has really helped so far with managing their workloads. Her regular study halls make sure her athletes don’t fall behind academically.
Liya and Darby are two of many: first-year Cardinals make up eight of the 17 total roster spots. Upperclassmen have made a concerted effort to make the newcomers feel welcome. Jeannette, a sophomore, remembers immediately becoming best friends with her teammates in her first year. She wants to make sure her new teammates feel not just welcome, but included in team decisions.
“I feel there were times where my voice wasn’t really being heard,” Jeannette said. “I just make it a thing to form the one-on-one connections first, so they can know that I’m there to listen to what they’re saying.”
The first-years are around each other so much — at practice, traveling for games and living on the same floor — it forces them to bond. Just like they became friends with each other, Liya and Darby have made friends with their fellow Cardinals, having team meals, going to games together and hanging out on weekends.
“They bonded really early and quickly,” Healis said. “Also with their abilities on the court. For their communication, they’ve had good feedback. I think that contributed to the relationship with the team.”
Liya and Darby come as a package deal, often being called the “Texas girls.” They’ve even been confused for each other. They don’t mind being associated with one another. In fact, it’s helped them make friends. That social connection translates to the court.
“We’ve had already a lot of time spent with each other. It just helps with us building more chemistry with one another and I think that’s something that our coach really wanted to stress,” Darby said.
When the Cardinals make a big play, everyone in the gym is going to know. Liya and Darby shout and jump for their teammates.
“You see them celebrate somebody else’s point more than their own,” Healis said. “It helps bring a good example and it really pushes each other to be there for each other and be better for each other.”
The encouragement is positive feedback that filters back into everyone’s play. Jeannette said their energy spreads to everyone on the floor. They’re very passionate about it.
“We’re very aggressive when we make a good play — we’re going to make it be known,” Liya said. “When we started playing, everyone started doing that.”
The results have been phenomenal. The team currently stands at 7-4 heading into conference play. Liya leads the team in kills with 120, 40 more than the runner-up. Darby is second on the team in kills per set, with 2.03. Jeanette said they’re good at adapting to the higher level of play. Zophy said their execution can help the team to compete against faster-paced teams.
It’s been hard for Liya and Darby to miss the obvious differences between Texas and New York. Attending a men’s soccer game Sept. 16, the two found themselves freezing in mid-60s weather. They’re now aware of the importance of layers.
They got their first taste of snow in 2021, when widespread winter storms knocked out power and canceled school in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metropolitan area. They’re excited for pretty winter scenes, but rumors of frostbite keep them cautious.
They were also disappointed to find that Upstate New York had no Chiloso restaurants, which Darby called “Chipotle times 10.” They settled on Einstein’s between classes in Hawkins Hall and can often be found in the Tim Horton’s line. Darby’s looking forward to trying Hong Kong Jade Buffet.
They’re yet to try Michigans, and Liya’s discovered that poutine isn’t for her. They’ve found the community friendly, and haven’t been afraid to venture off campus — even if it means they have to use the shuttle. Liya noted that Darby is still looking for someone to retwist her braids, pointing to her untangled hair.